How to Create Outdoor Living Rooms | Midwest Living
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How to Create Outdoor Living Rooms

Homeowners in Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, share their innovative ideas for extending interior living to the great outdoors.

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Dividing one yard into four rooms

Eschewing the one-big-patio idea, the homeowner divided his 50x50-foot backyard—bookended by house and garage—into four outdoor rooms filled with amenities for relaxing or entertaining. There's a dining area, with a shaded table for eight, just a few steps from the kitchen door. Opposite is a cozy seating area for two. Tucked behind screening trees and close to the garage is a south-facing sunroom with a burbling fountain and chaise lounges that rotate easily to follow the sun. Opposite lies the main seating area, featuring a coffee table that moves aside to reveal a fire pit for cool nights.

Pictured: Slender hornbeam trees divide the yard into four equal spaces.

A space with personality

To draw guests to the outdoor living room, a portable bar sits by the garage. Music drifts from outdoor speakers, rattan-wrapped hurricane lamps flicker, and subtle uplighting grazes trees and shrubs. Quirky vinyl boating cushions and industrial-chic metal chairs mix with classic teak furniture. Understated bed plantings emphasize foliage and texture, with tropical houseplants filling containers. A boxwood hedge pruned like dentil molding edges the garage. 

Details we love

A scrolled pot holder mounted on a fence keeps fresh herbs close to the dining table for instant seasoning.

Bountiful enclave in Chicago

Talk about an extreme makeover. When Ron and Deborah Clarkson bought their home in Lincoln Park, the building was a derelict commercial dairy surrounded by grounds that were basically a trash pit. Today, it's a one-of-a-kind residence with a wonderful secluded garden shielded by aged brick walls. A privacy wall and two garages (one facing the street, another the alley) frame the backyard. From the garage, a path leads around a juniper screen to a series of three outdoor rooms. The first is an 18x21-foot potager (pictured) — an ornamental kitchen garden mingling herbs, flowers, veggies and fruit. Landscape designer Will Spiegelberg trained six espaliered apple trees to form a living fence around the center bed. 

Cozy seating

Two lollipop-shaped ornamental pear trees herald the transition to the second space in the backyard: a cozy seating area with a backdrop of boxwood, anemone and a small tree called seven-son flower.

Enchanting enclosure

A brick arch marks the entrance to the alluring third room, an ivy-draped "dining court." French doors connect this inviting dining area to the kitchen. Climbing ivy softens the aged brick walls; a rusty door, original to the dairy, adds earthy character.

Rethink your outdoor space: Container color

Potted plants supply the majority of accent colors. Use tropicals or geraniums that can overwinter indoors to save on the budget as well as provide instant lushness in spring.

Your outdoor space: Tree techniques

Both homeowners use trees creatively (not just for shade). Here, pollarded (severely pruned) willow-leaved pear trees divide garden and living space. 

Your outdoor space: Smart divisions

Use outdoor materials to delineate "rooms" as you would indoors with rugs and hardwood and tile floors. Bluestone, brick and flagstone, along with mulch that holds its color year-round, mark boundaries in both yards.

Your outdoor space: Produce possibilities

This apple tree bears about 100 fruit each season. Other pruned apple trees were lashed to a framework of bamboo and leather to create a "living fence" around the potager's center bed, which yields herbs, flowers, veggies and, of course, fruit.

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